What is the job outlook for Forensic Scientists?
Forensic scientists help law enforcement officials like police detectives and prosecuting attorneys by collecting and analyzing evidence found at crime scenes. These crime experts are responsible for accomplishing two main jobs. The first is to analyze any physical evidence left behind on a victim or at the crime scene location, or both, and compare it with any evidence found on a suspect. The other job they perform is acting as an expert witness in order to provide necessary information and testimony that could lead to prosecuting a suspect.
Some forensic scientists specialize in specific areas of laboratory analyses while others concentrate on more general services. The crime lab experts working in large labs are usually specialists in one or more areas. One common specialty is controlled substances and toxicology. Lab professionals working in this area analyze body fluids, including blood and tissues, looking for evidence of alcohol, drugs or poisons. Lab professionals who specialize in the area of biology compare body fluid and hair, through DNA analysis, which compare one person's unique DNA against another's in a database.
Other popular specialties include:
- Document examination
- Firearms and tool mark identification
- Psychophysical detection of deception exam
Job opportunities for forensic scientists are expected to continue growing in response to the judicial system's increasing need to provide strong evidence to assist in prosecution. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13,000 people were working as forensic science professionals in 2006. Most of these experts worked for state and government agencies. Crime professionals can also expect an increase in competition for positions working for Departments of Justice, Treasury, and other Federal law enforcement departments.
The best job opportunities in this field will go to crime lab experts who have an advanced degree or some sort of certification in one of the previously mentioned forensic specialties, especially the rapidly growing specialty of DNA analysis.
Salary ranges depend on a range of factors including location, department, education, specialty and training. Salaries generally range anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000 and up.
Forensic experts usually begin their careers with a bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology, physics or physical anthropology. Since preparing special reports is a big part of the job, they are required to have excellent speaking and written communication skills. Extensive laboratory experience with analytical instruments and computer courses are important as well.
Some employers will accept workers that have acquired at least two years of specialized training and education by earning an associates degree. There are now formal two-year career training programs providing formal training that combine teaching scientific principles and theory, along with hands on experience in a laboratory.
Many employers provide additional training and education opportunities for entry-level employees with bachelor's degrees. Professionals are encouraged to continue honing their skills by regularly attending special conferences and workshops.
Information about specific job qualifications, training and other job opportunities can be found at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Schools Offering Forensic Science Courses:
- Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
- BS in Criminal Justice - Crime Scene Investigation
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